Writing to Inform

by Michael Porter
Informational writing is the cornerstone of a professional skill set. The ability to communicate thoughts, ideas, and procedures is essential. As more of the working world moves online, even the ability to compose a coherent text message becomes important. Our third grade students are putting this into practice.
In the "Writing Workshop," third graders are learning to write informational books. Their current lessons teach them to elaborate on their ideas and also to make connections within and across chapters. 

They are learning the order needed to make sense and how to use transitional words to glue the parts of their writing together.
Third grade teachers Debbie Cannington, Laurie Incles, and Leigh Anne Milne projected sample writing from students in Kindergarten through 4th grade onto the screen. The 3rd graders could see what progress in writing skills is typical in rising young writers.
Third grader Daniella J. was able to note the improvement in the student samples.
"They got better and they learned from their teachers," Daniella said.
The early writing examples mainly consisted of three-word sentences, such as "Lions are big." The texts by older writers was much more elaborate and included many details describing the subject. The third graders were quick to notice the change in styles and were eager to emulate the more mature writing.

Students were given some freedom to decide the topics on which to write. Many chose subjects they were passionate about.
"I'm from the Caucases," Daniella explained. "There was a war and Russia took it over, and I want to keep it alive and share the good news about it so I wrote about that."
For Daniella, her project has a specific goal in mind.
"My writing is not about the future or the present. It's about the past and what happened then," she said. "You should spread it so it keeps the culture alive and is not forgotten."
Niam M. choose an entirely different, though exciting, subject for his book. 

"My book is about the military and how they protect us," he said. "It's about strikers, which is an army vehicle that is used to transport troops where they need to go to support other troops on the battlefield fighting enemy forces."

The students are learning that organization is a major component of their book writing project.
"Let's say you write something but it really doesn't fit in. You have to delete it...or move it around to make sure when you read it it's smooth," explained Niam. "So you have to figure out what chapter goes first and then next and then next, so it goes with the flow."
Revising is one of the most important steps in writing a piece of any size. Rewriting helps the writer clarify, fix mistakes, and bring the story into sharper focus. Some students chose to do their writing on their iPad, which makes revising easier.

Daniella had some very astute observations about revisions: "You revise to see if there's a mistake. Can I make this better or more detailed? Can I stretch this part out? Can I delete this and mash it up with this? It's very important to just go over your work and do the best you can, and revising is one of those steps."
"Also, you have to make sure the words are spelled correctly," said Niam. " So if it's, like, their and you wrote the word t-h-e-r-e and it's supposed to be t-h-e-i-r."
As part of the unit on informational writing, students are learning that good introductions and conclusions, highlighted words, bullet points, and a glossary of lesser-known words are all important components of a good, informational composition.
Writing is a very personal and endearing experience for our students. Words committed to paper can last forever.
"Writing, for me, is very important," said Daniella. "You get to express your feelings best with words. It just helps you get all your emotions and thoughts out, which is really important to me."